As summer approaches, the chance of interacting with local wildlife will greatly increase.
From small insects to larger mammals, there are many health and safety implications if an individual were to come into contact with these animals either through a bite, through touch or even exposed to their feces.
Rabies is one of the most dangerous diseases you can come into contact with through wildlife.
Rabies spreads primarily through the bite of rabid animals.
Bats and skunks are the main sources of rabies in Colorado. Other mammals can be infected with rabies from bats and skunks.
Domestic animals such as dogs, cats, cattle and horses can become infected by being bitten by a rabid wild animal.
The first sign of rabies in an animal is a change in the animal’s behavior – for example, they act more aggressive or tame than normal.
Nocturnal animals with rabies may be out during the day. Rabid animals may stagger, tremble or seem weak.
If the wild animal that bit is available for testing, it may be recommended for decapitation and testing of the brain for rabies.
If the animal that bit is a pet, the pet is placed under quarantine for 10 days.
If the animal is alive and well after 10 days, we know that it did not have rabies. If the animal that bit is not available for testing or quarantine, Public Health will work with the healthcare provider to decide whether or not rabies treatment is necessary.
If you’ve been bitten or scratched by an animal, contact your doctor or Chaffee County Public Health right away.
If your pet has had contact with a skunk, bat, fox, raccoon or coyote, notify your veterinarian.
Rabies usually is fatal in humans once symptoms appear, but treatment is available if administered quickly. The treatment for rabies is a series of rabies immunoglobulin and rabies vaccination.
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, most commonly called hantavirus, is a severe and sometimes fatal respiratory disease in humans caused by infection with hantavirus that comes from rodents.
Rodent infestation in a home, shed, barn or other building is the most common source of hantavirus in humans. Even healthy individuals are at risk for severe complications from hantavirus infection.
In Colorado, deer mice are the most common reservoirs of hantavirus. They shed the virus in their urine, droppings or saliva.
Humans are usually infected when they breathe in air contaminated with the virus. This can happen when sweeping or cleaning out buildings that have been infested with deer mice.
Humans can also get infected when they touch something with the virus and then touch their mouth or nose.
Early symptoms include fatigue, fever and muscle aches, as well as headache, dizziness, chills, nausea and diarrhea.
Late symptoms include coughing and shortness of breath. Hantavirus has a mortality rate of 38 percent.
The best way to prevent hantavirus is to eliminate rodents in your home or workplace.
You can do this through traps, professional services, cleaning up food and keeping your buildings clean.
If you are cleaning out buildings that may have had rodents, open windows 30 minutes before cleaning to ventilate the space.
Remove potentially contaminated items outside using gloves and bags. Clean hard surfaces with a disinfectant, letting the disinfectant sit for 10 minutes before wiping or mopping.
For clothing, bedding, etc., wash with hot water and detergent and machine dry on high or air dry in the sun.
For soft surfaces like couches, use a commercial disinfectant. All other items that cannot be disinfected should be disposed of or left outside in the sun for several hours or longer.
Ticks are tiny parasites that feed exclusively on blood to complete their life cycle.
Though primary hosts are wildlife, ticks will feed opportunistically on humans, pets, horses and other livestock.
Ticks acquire and transmit pathogens (germs) during these blood meals, which can cause a variety of diseases and other illnesses in their host.
Thirty types of ticks live in Colorado, and it’s common to encounter them during the warmer months.
Ticks can cause a variety of diseases including Lyme disease, tick-borne relapsing fever, tularemia, Q fever, Colorado tick fever and many more.
The initial signs and symptoms may include mild to severe flu-like symptoms and can lead to more serious symptoms such as cardities, nerve pain, shortness of breath or cognitive changes.
In some cases, a rash may appear after a bite.
Diagnosis of a tick-borne disease is challenging because the symptoms mimic many other diseases. If you get bitten by a tick, you can send it into a laboratory for testing that may aid your physician in diagnosing you if symptoms occur.
If you find a tick on yourself, you need to remove it properly. Use fine-tipped tweezers or official tick-removal tweezers.
Firmly grasp the tick close to the skin and pull straight up, without twisting. Never use bare fingers, petroleum jelly, hot match, nail polish, essential oils or other topical products to remove a tick.
The best way to protect yourself from tick-borne diseases is to not get bitten.
You can do this by wearing permethrin-treated clothing or using an EPA tick repellent product on exposed skin.
Tuck long pants into socks and shirts into pants. Stick to the center of trails and avoid tall grass and brush and avoid sitting on logs or against trees.
After you get back from being outdoors, do a thorough tick check on yourself, your family and all your animals.
Tularemia is a serious disease caused by infection with the bacterium Francisella tularensis.
Tularemia is endemic throughout the United States, including Colorado. It circulates in rabbits and hares, as well as rodents such as mice, voles, muskrats, ground squirrels and beavers.
It is most commonly transmitted among these animals by tick bites.
Cats are highly susceptible to infection and often develop a severe, even fatal illness.
Dogs are more resistant but can develop clinical illness that may become severe. Tularemia-infected domestic pets generally have a history of roaming and hunting.
Animal owners living in tularemia-endemic areas are advised to 1) keep pets from roaming to decrease interactions with rodents and rabbits, 2) discourage hunting of wild prey, 3) maintain pets on a flea- and tick-control product year-round and 4) ensure any sick pet is examined promptly by a veterinarian.
This is especially important during the most common periods of tularemia transmission (May through October). Pets should not be fed raw or undercooked meat, especially from wild animals.
Human infection with tularemia most often comes from a tick or deer fly bite or after handling a contaminated animal.
The most common symptom in humans is a skin ulcer where the bite occurred.
Other symptoms are related to the route of infection, so for example if bacteria enters through the eyes or throat, then symptoms appear in the eyes or throat.
The most serious form of tularemia is pneumonic and includes cough, chest pain and difficulty breathing. Tularemia is difficult to diagnose, so always tell your doctor if you suspect a tick or deer fly bite, or if you have had any unusual contact with animals. Tularemia is treated with antibiotics.
Plague is a disease that affects humans and other mammals. It is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis.
Humans usually get plague after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an animal infected with plague.
Plague is infamous for killing millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages.
Today, modern antibiotics are effective in treating plague. Without prompt treatment, the disease can cause serious illness or death.
Presently, human plague infections continue to occur in rural areas in the western United States.
Plague is transmitted by flea bites, contact with an infected animal or infectious droplets from someone with plague pneumonia.
Plague is usually found in squirrels, woodrats, prairie dogs, chipmunks, mice, voles and rabbits.
Wild carnivores can become infected after eating one of these infected animals. Scientists believe plague bacteria circulates at low rates among rodents without causing extensive die-off.
These infected animals serve as long-term reservoirs for plague. Occasionally other species become infected and cause an outbreak.
This is when humans are most at risk, and this generally occurs during cool summers that happen after wet winters.
Plague symptoms depend on how the patient was exposed to plague. The most common forms are bubonic, pneumonic or septicemic.
The best way to reduce your exposure to plague is to reduce rodent habitat around your home, wear gloves if you are handling an animal, use a DEET repellent on your skin or a permethrin repellent on your clothing if you think you could be exposed to fleas, keep fleas off your pets with flea-control products, and do not allow dogs or cats to roam free in endemic areas then sleep on your bed.
If you have concerns about animals around your home, contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Avian influenza is a common influenza virus found in wild birds.
There are many strains of the virus, which are classified as either low pathogenic or highly pathogenic.
Low pathogenic avian influenza does not typically cause significant problems in the bird population.
However, highly pathogenic avian influenza causes severe disease and mortality in domestic poultry and other birds and potentially other animals.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was found in Colorado geese in March 2022 and continues to actively circulate in wild birds in Colorado.
Multiple state and local agencies are monitoring the disease outbreak and working with organizations that own domestic birds to protect their flocks from disease.
There are other species of animals susceptible to HPAI.
Wild mammals can become infected with the virus, as well as domestic pets who are exposed to sick birds.
If you have a concern about a dead animal, please contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife. If you have a concern about your pet, please contact your veterinarian.
Humans are rarely infected with HPAI, but it is possible. The best protection is to avoid handling sick or dead birds and other wildlife.
If you find three or more dead wild birds in a specific area within a two-week period or if you see live birds showing clinical signs of disease, contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
For individual carcasses found on private property, homeowners may – if necessary – wear a mask and gloves to pick up the carcass, immediately double-bag it and place it in the trash.
Discard the gloves and mask and immediately wash hands.
If you hunt birds, do not eat or drink anything while cleaning the game.
Wear rubber gloves when cleaning the game and wash hands and all equipment thoroughly when you are finished. Cook all game thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
If you have any questions about any of these disease, don’t hesitate to conctact Chaffee County Public Health at 719-539-4510.
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